TriMet is moving ahead with the estimated $15 million Gideon Overcrossing.
The bridge for pedestrians and bike riders will cross the freight lines and TriMet MAX Orange Line tracks along Gideon Street between Southeast 14th Avenue on the north and Southeast 13th Avenue on the south.
Both sides will have an elevator and staircase. TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt says advanced utility work will begin in April and the bridge will take over a year to build.
"We looked for another option but there were no others that didn't have a greater impact on private property," Altstadt told the Business Tribune.
While there is already a street-level crossing at Southeast 12th Avenue, pedestrians and cyclists have been observed climbing over the couplings of freight trains when they stop and block the crossing for long periods. This was considered a significant safety hazard.
"The crossing is safe, the behavior is not," said Altstadt.
The new overcrossing will be solely in the public right of way. But not everyone is happy.
Michael Koerner runs Koerner Camera Systems at 2828 S.E. 14th Ave., the last building on the left as the road dead ends to a fence by the train tracks. He rents out professional camera equipment for television, films and commercials. Recently there was an ABC pilot of a cop drama called Stumptown using his gear. His issue with the overcrossing is the new bridge's elevator will block the area where his trucks turn and load. He also has dozens of visits per week by Jet Delivery, FedEx, UPS and camera trucks. The trucks will have to do more reversing to get around the structure, which will be a danger to the new wave of bikers and pedestrians using the street. He noted that film trucks are often parked there for a day or two before a shoot while shelves are built inside them to store the equipment.
"They don't think it will affect my business, but I will have to move," he told the Business Tribune. "There's no way I'm going to be able to serve my customers with that structure there and have them be happy and safe about it."
The grant from the Federal Transit Administration says the bridge has to be close to the Union Pacific Railroad crossing at Southeast 11th and 12th Avenues. The construction of the Orange Line, which opened in 2015, required the removal of an old, non-ADA compliant pedestrian bridge. A replacement bridge was deferred from the budget when federal funding came in lower than expected. TriMet later received approval from the FTA to restore the project.
Koerner says TriMet has not acted in good faith and told him he would have to extend his loading dock 20 feet at his own expense, which would cost him his parking spaces. TriMet said they would work with Koerner's "design team" for the best possible compromise but then eight months later the same TriMet representative said "We never work with third parties on project designs." He bought the building two years ago after a five-year search. Now Koerner says he can't sell it until after the construction is finished, and it will decrease in value.
TriMet says they have acted in good faith and that an independent, licensed appraiser will evaluate project impacts according to Oregon law and TriMet will pay the fair market value for impacts caused by the project.
Koerner's list of grievances include that the Portland Bureau of Transportation prepared a traffic count the week before Christmas 2018. This was "when all businesses along Southeast 14th are at their lowest demand in the annual cycle" and left him with no opportunity to set the record straight.
Paid for by the FTA, the bridge will be handed over from TriMet to PBOT when it opens.
K&F Coffee across the street will also only have a six-foot space between where the stairs land and their busy driveway, with forklifts and trucks crossing the pedestrians' path. While other neighbors support Koerner, K&F are not the only other ones who will be directly affected by the structure's placement.
"The neighbors are all concerned about the interaction of forklifts with cyclists and pedestrians as they unload their semi-trailers full of lumber and pallets of printing materials," states Koerner.
Big names can't help
Koerner employs five people in Seattle and seven in Portland. He has spent money on lawyers, an engineer, engaged an architect and spent time talking to politicians, to no avail. He put in three public records requests to see the federal grant and other communications. He toured the site with Tina Kotek because the speaker of the Oregon House is a supporter of Oregon's nearly one billion dollar film industry. He wrote a long letter to city commissioner Nick Fish who is Portland's point person for the film and video industry. And he talked with governor Kate Brown and met with representative Rob Nosse, the state representative for this part of Southeast Portland.
He adds that the Portland Freight Committee was oblivious to his concerns until it was too late.
"I'm a taxpayer, a business owner and an employer. I'm trying to do the right thing. They seem to care less, but they always talk about transparency and broad community support, what about community safety?"
Until now Koerner has been hoping for a delay and a redesign, but he's losing hope.
"I'm frustrated. They don't think it's going to affect my business. We cannot function if that thing goes in and TriMet has never done a comprehensive safety study."
PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera responded, "It's an important project. We hear from business all the time that they are eager to locate where their employees can have comfortable biking, walking and public transit commute access, and this bridge will be an incredible enhancement to thousands of people to bike walk or take public transit to work, to the central east side and downtown Portland. If you're trying to grow your business this makes it a lot easier and more appealing."
Because of an editing error, a shorter version of this story appeared in the print version of the April 2 edition of the Business Tribune.